Navy Accounts of the Korean War

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Submarine Operations During the Korean War

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Submarines in the Korean War - June 25, 1950 to July 27, 1953

[KWE Note: The following information came from the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park website located at]

"During the Korean Conflict, once again U.S. Navy submarines were among the first U.S. forces to counterattack the enemy. Fleet boats screened naval surface forces that provided tactical air support, surveyed Soviet and Korean mine fields and engaged in special forces raids. Submarines performed photo reconnaissance of potential amphibious landing sites on the Korean peninsula in support of the landing at Inchon. Submarines reconnoitered Soviet shipping. Additionally, they neutralized maritime forces in the Formosa Straits and patrolled the Sea of Okhotsk."

From: 100 Years of the U.S. Navy Submarine Force - A Century of Achievements, Naval Submarine League

Submarine Troop Carrier - USS Perch (SSP-313)

During World War II, U.S. submarines carried troops that were landed on Japanese-held Makin Island, and raiders were put ashore for a foray on the mainland of Japan. Yet this type of operation was looked upon with indulgent amusement by many top officials.

After completing seven successful war patrols in the Pacific during World War II, PERCH led a quiet post-war period. But in January 1948 the submarine was picked to under-go a face-lift and re-designated a submarine transport. Some six months later PERCH emerged from the Mare Island Naval Shipyard as a troop-carrier. However, this once sleek and trim diesel submarine now possessed a huge bulbous projection on its afterdeck and soon became the laughing stock of the fleet. Often it was called "The Pregnant Perch" and sailors conjured up unprintable theories how the submarine got that way. The bulbous projection was a hangar deck capable of carrying a small-motor launch.

PERCH received her test in September 1950. The submarine had been picked to participate in a daring raid on the northeast coast of Korea west of Tanchon. For this operation, PERCH transported sixty highly trained British Royal Marine Commandos under Lieutenant Colonel P. M. Drysdale through a known mined area and put them ashore under the cover of darkness. Their target: a train tunnel on the north-south supply line. Heavily loaded with explosives, the Commandos proceeded quickly to their predetermined objective and scurried up the sides of the railroad embankment. Pressure charges were laid under the tracks and set to go off when the next train passed through the tunnel. Despite caution, enemy patrols discovered the Commandos and heavy gunfire broke out. This action was heard by the PERCH off shore. This prompted a young Naval surgeon, in the submarine's wardroom, to lay out his surgical equipment and set up an operating table. He would be ready, if needed! PERCH's crew waited anxiously at their battle-stations while the submarine maneuvered quietly around the mined bay under a clear moonlight sky. The submarine was attempting to avoid enemy patrol boats that had been alerted by the gunfire ashore. The entire area became a virtual hornets nest of activity. The Commandos doggedly completed their mission successfully and now prepared to fight their way to the beach. The PERCH waited anxiously. Finally the Commandos reached the submarine and climbed wearily aboard. However, during the fierce gunfire one of their comrades, P.R. Jones, had been fatally injured--the only U.N. casualty of the raid.

Later, while PERCH was laying to in the Sea of Japan, a solemn ceremony was held on her afterdeck. On a stretcher covered by the British Union Jack rested the body of Commando Jones. Around the body stood Jones' comrades, their jaws working nervously and their eyes avoiding each other. Their officer-in-charge read a brief burial-at-sea service and the body was committed to the deep. Eight Commando riflemen fired three volleys in a salute to their fallen comrade and two American destroyers each paid their respects with a full 21-gun salute.

As a result of this successful raid, the PERCH crew and officers were awarded the Submarine Combat Insignia. The USS PICKEREL (SS-524) was the only other submarine to be awarded this insignia during the Korean War. PICKEREL's award came from an operation involving United Nations personnel in a similar commando raid.

Korean War Submarines

Following is a list of U.S. submarines known to have participated in the Korean War, in order by hull number:

  • Bluegill (SS-242) – “saw service"
  • Sabalo (SS-302) – two patrols
  • Tilefish (SS-307) – two patrols; according to the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships (DANFS): “On 5 September 1950, Tilefish departed Pearl Harbor for Japan. From 28 September 1950 through 24 March 1951, the submarine operated out of Japanese ports conducting patrols in Korean waters in support of the United Nations campaign in Korea. She made reconnaissance patrols of La Perouse Strait to keep the Commander, Naval Forces Far East, informed of Soviet seaborne activity in that area.”
  • Perch (SS-313) – one patrol, in which she carried Royal Marines on a strike on a North Korean railroad; war patrol combat pin awarded. According to DANFS: “In September 1950, PERCH transported a force of British Commandos in a raid on the northeast coast of Korea west of Tanchon. The target, a train tunnel on the north-south supply line, was destroyed with the loss of one man who was buried at sea. The commanding officer, Lt. Comdr. R. D. Quinn, became the only submarine commanding officer to receive a combat award during the Korean conflict when he was awarded the Bronze Star for this action.” See the article above.
  • Besugo (SS-321) received one battle star, according to DANFSBlackfin (SS-322) – two patrols
  • Caiman (SS-323) – three patrols
  • Blenny (SS-324) – one patrol
  • Charr (SS-328) – two patrols
  • Bugara (SS-331) – one patrol – one patrol
  • Cabezon (SS-334) – one patrol
  • Carp (SS-338) – three patrols
  • Catfish (SS-339) – two patrols
  • Diodon (SS-349) – two patrols; rescued three downed aviators
  • Greenfish (SS-351) – two patrols
  • Halfbeak (SS-352) – one patrol
  • Menhaden (SS-377) – one patrol
  • Queenfish (SS-393) – two patrols
  • Ronquil (SS-396) – three patrols
  • Scabbardfish (SS-397) – one patrol
  • Segundo (SS-398) – four patrols
  • Sea Devil (SS-400) – one patrol
  • Sea Fox (SS-402) – two patrols
  • Stickleback (SS-415) – one patrol
  • Tiru (SS-417) – four patrols; DANFS: “On 9 June 1951, Tiru sailed for the Far East and her first Western Pacific (WestPac) deployment. While in Asiatic waters, she operated in support of United Nations forces engaged in combating communist aggression in Korea” (until 26 November 1951).
  • Tigrone (SS-419) – one patrol (unconfirmed by DANFS)
  • Pomodon (SS-486) – two patrols
  • Remora (SS-487) – two patrols – two patrols
  • Volador (SS-490) – three patrols
  • Pickerel (SS-524) – three patrols; war patrol combat pin awarded. According to DANFS: “During her first deployment in the Western Pacific in 1950, PICKEREL spent 4 months in the Korean War Zone, one of the first submarines to enter the Korean Conflict.”
  • Tang (SS-563) – one patrol (unconfirmed by DANFS)

Information on patrols obtained from:
Christley, J. L., United States Naval Submarine Force Information Book - 1999, Graphic Enterprises of Marblehead, Marblehead, MA, 1999.

Further information from:
Naval History Division, Department of the Navy, Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Washington. This list is not necessarily complete.

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Operational Analysis of U.S. Submarine Employment in the Korean War

- written by Lieutenant Commander Gregory M. Billy

[KWE Note: This analysis was submitted to the US War College by Commander Billy in 1994.  Since the use of submarines during the Korean War is a little-researched subject, the KWE understands the historical significance of Commander Billy's research.  All credit to this work goes to Commander Billy.]

Click HERE to view the analysis as a PDF file.


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